CANBERRA, June 22 (Xinhua) -- Carbon neutral cars have become a step closer after Australian scientists developed a new way to successfully use solar energy to turn naturally-occurring carbon dioxide (CO2) into a "clean" synthetic form of natural gas.
In collaboration with Australia's national scientific agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), scientists from the University of Adelaide have successfully used a new "catalyst" to combine carbon dioxide with hydrogen to efficiently produce methane and water.
According to University of Adelaide PhD candidate, Renata Lippi, the development could eventually help engineers and scientists come up with a viable solution to phasing out fossil-fueled cars while continuing to use carbon-based technologies.
"Capturing carbon from the air and utilizing it for industrial processes is one strategy for controlling CO2 emissions and reducing the need for fossil fuels," Lippi said in a statement released on Thursday.
"But for this to be economically viable, we need an energy efficient process that utilizes CO2 as a carbon source.
"Research has shown that the hydrogen can be produced efficiently with solar energy. But combining the hydrogen with CO2 to produce methane is a safer option than using hydrogen directly as an energy source and allows the use of existing natural gas infrastructure."
According to the researchers, the key to the development was the "catalyst" used. Lippi said the catalyst was a "a compound needed to drive the reaction" as CO2 is known generally as an "unreactive chemical."
Project leader, Dr Christian Doonan said the unique, synthetic catalyst used by the research team used metal-organic frameworks which allowed for better control over the chemical elements - in effect efficiently converting the CO2 into a purer methane with less of the dirty carbon monoxide.
Crucially for the future development of carbon neutral cars, only a tiny amount of the catalyst is required to kick-start the conversion.
"What we've produced is a highly active, highly selective (producing almost pure methane without side products) and stable catalyst that will run on solar energy," Doonan said on Thursday.
"This makes carbon neutral fuel from CO2 a viable option."